Walk Me Through It
Kosciuszko National Park
Words and images by Glenn Mead
Kosciuszko National Park is a wonderful place to visit outside the ski season. It boasts spectacular views from well-organised tracks, leading you through this strikingly beautiful alpine wilderness.
There are a couple of ways to walk the high country, the most popular being driving to Thredbo and catching a chairlift. The walk from Thredbo to the top of Mt Kosciuszko is 4-6 hours. Or you can drive to Charlotte Pass and do the 18.6-kilometre day walk from there, returning the same way.
An even more spectacular option is to take the Main Range Loop. This is what we decided to do. The walk provides views of the alpine lakes, crosses the Snowy River twice and passes over or close to all of the 10 highest peaks in Australia. It starts past the Perisher ski resort, at Charlotte Pass, about 41 kilometres from Jindabyne. The road is suitable for most vehicles, but chains are recommended during the winter snow. The National Park website is informative about road conditions.
The Main Range Loop walk is close to 23 kilometres, at a National Park Grade 4 level, which makes for an enjoyably challenging day walk. However, we chose to camp one night, allowing us to explore some of the lakes and peaks off the trail.
The Walk – Day 1
After leaving Jindabyne (the last chance for a morning coffee and supplies) we drive into the National Park. You can pay a one-off entry fee at the gate, or purchase an annual pass online beforehand. Then follow the signs to Charlotte Pass. We get an easy park about 100m from the trail start.
The sky is wide and blue as we head down the slope to the Snowy River, rock-hopping across the glistening stream. Immediately there is a long uphill, but every step unfolds a little more of the panoramic views of Australia’s highest peaks.
Near the top of this climb we take our first detour, across to Hedley Tarn, following around to the end of Blue Lake. Tarn is an old Norse word for a glacial mountain lake. Both Hedley Tern and Blue Lake are spectacular, carved out by the ice in ages past. Blue Lake sits in front of Mt Twynam, Australia’s third highest peak. The beautiful setting makes for a perfect lunchtime stop.
Continuing on, we reach a saddle with spectacular views of the drop-off to the west of the main range – close to 1800 metres down to the headwaters of the Murray River. From there it is up to Carruthers Peak, another of the 10 highest peaks. Carruthers Peak offers magnificent 360-degree views, including Kosciuszko, Club Lake (another alpine tarn), back across to Mt Twynam, Blue Lake and countless other peaks.
We are keen to set camp well before nightfall because the temperature drops significantly as soon as the sun starts to set. After a quick climb of Mt Lee, we choose a ridge overlooking Lake Albina, just out of the No Camping zone that protects these lakes. The sunset is magnificent over the range of Mt Townsend and Alice Rawson Peak.
The Walk – Day 2
It is a very cold camp. Overnight the temperature drops to minus 7. We wake to find a crusting of ice covering the tents. We had packed for an overnight temperature of zero, so our sleeping bags were insufficient for the unexpected cold. Best hint here is to take a sleeping bag rated lower than the forecast!
While waiting for the sun to melt the remnant ice, we wander down to Lake Albina to refill water bottles, bask in the morning sun and take in the beautiful scene. Today’s track is visible, winding high above us. The early risers are starting to pass along the trail so it’s time to be on our way.
Heading towards Kosciuszko, we down packs at a junction and head off to climb Australia’s second highest peak, Mount Townsend. This detour is less popular and more difficult because it involves some rock-hopping. While Kosciuszko is an easy stroll up a well-groomed track, Mount Townsend looks like someone has thrown a stack of granite boulders in our way. We clamber up under the midday sun.
The views are worth every slip, slide and scramble. At this height the clouds are rising from below us, creating a dramatic backdrop for Kosciuszko and the surrounding peaks. We can still imagine Strezlecki standing here on what he thought was Australia’s highest peak before his surveying instruments showed him that Kosciuszko was just a few metres higher.
After climbing down from the Mount Townsend we follow in Strezlecki’s footsteps through the Mueller Gap. This leads back to the main path before the final winding ascent to the top of Australia. It is getting late in the day but there are still plenty of people enjoying the view from Mt Kosciuszko.
After photos and a snack, it’s a mostly gentle downhill path to Charlotte Pass. With our extra detours today, the sunlight is disappearing quickly. We arrive at Charlotte Pass in time to be dazzled by a last brilliant sunset glowing over the peaks of our two-day walk.
This fantastic walk was made all the more enjoyable by detours to the various peaks and lakes. The walking was easy enough, along well-signed tracks. We would recommend enjoying the Main Range Loop in Spring, or early Summer when the wildflowers are blooming. Most of the 350,000 hectare Kosciuszko National Park has been named a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, because of its valuable wilderness. If you love rugged vistas and wide open spaces, this is the walk for you.
Next time Walk Me Through It visits the New England National Park. You can read about last month’s walk at Coffs Harbour here.